The Blessing of Worship
When I was a boy around 10 and 11 years old, my afternoon routine – when it wasn’t football season! - was to come home from school, get a snack, and do homework. THEN I would head off on a short 15-minute walk down a dirt road that ran past our house, through a bit of first, and out into a clearing where there was small lake lined with large pine trees.
These pine trees were perfect for climbing – low, large limbs gave easy access, and I would climb up as high as I could go while comfortably nestled on limbs large enough to support me. And then, being quite alone, with all the unabashed boldness I could muster, I would sing. Loudly. At the top of my lungs. Anyone who has ever heard me sing would be very thankful that I was alone. I didn’t care about how good I sounded to human ears; I was excited about singing passionately and loudly so God could hear me.
The joy of worshipping God in song is not simply a nice addition to the personal preferences of our spirituality; we are commanded in scripture to praise God by singing. As we reflect on Psalm 100, we see that – while it takes a revelation of God to bring us into worship, it is in worship that we have a further revelation of God.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
This first verse invites us to make a joyful noise. The phrase make a joyful noise might be more accurately translated raise a joyful shout or give a joyful blast. There is a place to have a quiet time with God, and there is a place to have a loud time with God. Psalm 100 is describing the loud time of joyfully shouting – blasting – praising God.
Also, note that the instruction to shout joyfully is given to all the earth. Even 1000 years before Jesus, the Psalmist has the revelation that worshipping God isn’t just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well. Imagine a young shepherd on the hills of Judea singing, ‘All the earthy will worship the Lord!’ Someone listening in might say, ‘That’s a bit audacious, don’t you think?’. Not at all. Our God is the God, and he has unfolded history so that his name is praised everywhere.
Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
The second instruction is to serve the Lord with gladness. To serve the Lord means to work for him, to get stuff done. In the Bible, the words for worship and service are related; to worship God is to serve him; to serve him is to worship him. The common denominator is that in both cases He is the centre of our lives.
On a related note, sometimes it is work to worship God. By that I mean that we don’t always FEEL like worshipping. To which the authors of the Bible say, ‘Forget about it!’. Remember, feelings are data, not directives. The author of Hebrews tells us to ‘continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God’. Why is praise a sacrifice? Because we often don’t feel like praising.
The invitation to come into God’s presence is an invitation to personal encounter. The word for presenceshares the same root word for face: that is, this is a personal, face to face encounter with the living God. And you might be thinking, ‘But that sounds scary! How can a sinful human come into god’s presence?’ Good question! Yes, it is scary thing – as a sinful human - to come into God’s presence. Why? Because God is perfectly holy, and sinful humans are not designed to be in the presence of sheer holiness any more than astronauts are designed to do space walks without life-supporting equipment.
But there is good news! We can come into God’s presence because of what Jesus has done for us:
In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. Ephesians 3:12
Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith Hebrews 10:19, 22
It is through Jesus that we can come into God’s presence – bold and confident and unafraid.
Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
First, notice that knowing comes after praising: After we have done the make, serve, and come of verses 1 and 2, we are affirmed in knowledge. This is not the place for a full-blown epistemology (the understanding of how we know what we know); here I will simply affirm that to know anything about God, we are dependent on his self-revelation.
God has revealed himself in creation, in his word, and in Christ. But the key thing to understand is that – even though our understanding is imperfect, God – being God – has the ability to make himself known to us. And part of this revelation from God about himself comes to us in worship.
Second, the foundational revelation of all revelations is that the Lord, He is God! In English, this might seem like a redundancy, but in Hebrew, this is YHWH is Elohim! That is, the Lord who appeared to Abraham, the Lord who appeared to Moses, the Lord who spoke to Samuel, the Lord who was with David – THE Lord is THE God. Our God is God. The key thing affirmed to us in worship is the identity of God – The Lord is God.
Third, we have revelation of God as creator and re-creator. It is he who has made us. God has made us physically – we are his special creation, not lucky mud. Our statement of faith includes this affirmation:
We believe God created all things, visible and invisible, out of nothing, and all very good. He sovereignly sustains and governs creation for his glory and the benefit of his creatures. God created humans in his image, male and female, to know, love, and glorify him in covenant relationship and to serve as stewards of the earth.
And God has made us spiritually – or recreated – we are new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). As a result – of both physical and spiritual creation – we are his. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians – you have been bought with a price(1 Corinthians 6:20). He had us to begin with, and he has bought us back. We are his.
Fourth, we know that we are his people. It has always been God’s dream to have a people for himself (Jeremiah 30:22). Our faith in Jesus is personal, but we follow Jesus in community. Notice the plurality of this statement: we are your people. Our salvation is person, but not only personal; we are made part of the people of God.
Fifth, through God’s revelation, we know that we are the sheep of his pasture. This is a great reminder that our Lord cares for us, tends us, feeds us, leads us, and protects. Jesus himself is our good shepherd (John 10:11).
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
First, notice that gates and courts both speak to corporate worship; these were parts of the temple, and so the picture here is coming together with God’s people to give him praise. Second, notice that this is a Hebraism of repetition: that is, in Hebrew poetry, a concept would be emphasized by being repeated using different language. And in this verse we have two repetitions:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving = give thanks to him
Enter his courts with praise = bless his name.
That is, our worship consists of thanksgiving and praise. We understand the importance of gratitude, this is one of the first words all parents teach their children: what do you say? ‘Thank you!’. And praise simply means to extol or celebrate or commend the character of God: Lord you are good, Lord you are righteous, you are holy, beautiful, magnificent, strong, gracious, saviour, redeemer, rock … and the list goes on. So, to summarise: 1) we thank God for what He has done, and 2) we praise him for who He is.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
The word for functions as a connector: this is why we praise him, but also, this is the revelation we receive as we come to God in praise. Notice these three power statements:
1 – God is good: there is no badness in him.
2 – His love endures forever: he will always be perfectly loving.
3 – God is always faithful: he keeps his promises.
Remember, we can know – cognitively – that God is all of these things – good, loving, faithful. But the invitation of this Psalm is to know personally and experientially – not just that God is good, but that He is good to you; not just that God is loving, but his attitude towards you is love; not just that God is faithful, but that he keeps his promises to you.
- Find Your Tree: Don’t neglect personal time with God. Find your tree - find a place, a time, and a situation where you can praise God – boldly and loudly – for who He is and what he has done. Get alone, get with God, and go for it!
- Prioritise Your People: There is a dimension of worship – and the revelation from God we receive in worship – that only occurs when we are together with God’s people. Online church is a necessity, not a convenience. We need each other, and the time is coming when we will re-gather. Don’t let life, comfort, or the forces of darkness bump you off prioritising corporate worship with God’s people.